CAD Tech News (#142)21 Jan, 2021 By: Cadalyst Staff
Herrera on Hardware: Ryzen 5000 and Zen 3 — Benchmarking Performance Measures for CAD
This exercise provides some performance data for comparison, plus insights about examining a CPU’s clock rates.
By Alex Herrera
After a long journey back to a leadership position in high-performance CPUs, AMD now presents the biggest threat to Intel’s workstation dominance in years. As covered in last month’s column, the dual introductions of the Zen 3 microarchitecture and Ryzen 5000 line represent the linchpin in AMD’s closing of the gap with the longtime market leader. The combination finally delivered on that one last metric that Intel had been using to hold off the resurgent challenger: single-thread (1T) performance.
CPUs are anything but one-size-fits-all in terms of technology, applications, and marketing. Zen-derived CPUs have caught and — at least for now — surpassed Intel in core count (and core count per dollar), making them particularly attractive in applications that rely most heavily on multithread-capable workloads. CAD is certainly one of those application spaces, but it also happens to be one that still often demands the best single-thread (1T) performance available to boot. And unlike delivering on higher core counts, achieving parity with Intel on that latter metric has proven elusive to AMD. But with the launch of four Ryzen 5000 CPUs — codenamed Vermeer, and the first to leverage the third-generation Zen 3 microarchitecture — matching or even surpassing Intel on 1T performance was finally within reach.
This month, I’ll follow up on Zen 3’s 1T promise with some benchmarking of workloads common in CAD processing.
Ryzen 5000 Testing: How Does Zen 3 Perform for CAD-Relevant Workloads?
AMD describes Zen 3 as the “most comprehensive design overhaul of the Zen era,” touting a blanket 19% higher instructions per cycle (IPC) over Zen 2. And with single-thread performance tending to track IPC (supporting memory and I/O allowing), Vermeer offered the most promise ever to meet or exceed the best Intel can manage in 1T rates. It’s a promise I hoped to test, with a range of CAD-centric benchmarks focused on single-thread workloads. And thanks to Boxx Technologies, I was able to do just that.
The name Boxx has been mentioned in this column several times in the past, and for good reason. When it comes to exploring emerging, cutting-edge workstation components and design approaches, Boxx is consistently at the forefront. The company knows it can’t compete with the likes of Dell, HP, and Lenovo on the basis of price, so there’s no point in building machines with the same specs as that trio’s wares. Instead, Boxx is always on the lookout to differentiate with unique features and no-compromise performance, and adopting AMD CPUs has been one way it’s done so, particularly in the age of Zen.
Boxx Technologies’ Apexx A3 Denali workstation, built on AMD Ryzen CPUs.
Delivered in a compact, liquid-cooled package, Boxx’s Apexx A3 workstation was built for Ryzen and showcases the Ryzen 5000 portfolio, including the two of particular interest in professional-caliber computing: the 8-core (8C) Ryzen 7 5800X and the 12-core (12C) Ryzen 9 5900X. The two represent the fastest nominal clock rates available, at 3.8 GHz (4.7-GHz boost rate) and 3.7 GHz (4.8-GHz boost), respectively. Boxx delivered the 5800X in the Apexx A3, and AMD kindly offered a 5900X to swap in as well. The CPUs were amply complemented by memory, GPU, and storage selected for maximum performance, so as to ensure the CPUs would be the bottleneck in testing (or at least as much as possible).
For a comparison to the previous Zen 2 microarchitecture, I have a previous set of benchmark results on a 12-core Threadripper Pro 3945WX. While the complementary components were not identical, the 3945WX can provide a meaningful, albeit not perfect, reference point to assess the performance gains of Zen 3 over its predecessor.
The test systems were built on two AMD Ryzen 5000 series CPUs, based on Zen 2, with a Threadripper Pro CPU built around Zen 3.
For workstation system testing, I typically employ SPECworkstation, an independent benchmark which contains CAD workloads common to AEC, design, engineering, and manufacturing workflows. That wasn’t possible for 1T evaluation, however, as the benchmark currently lacks the means to constrain processing to a certain number of threads. Instead, I employed Pass Mark’s Performance Test 10.0 and Cinebench R42. For the former, beyond the standard overall single-thread test offered, I hand-picked three workloads deemed most relevant to CAD — physics, floating point, and compression — while Cinebench R42 added a workload typical in render processing.
The Zen 3 generation Ryzen 9 5900X ended up outperforming the Zen 2 Threadripper Pro 3945WX anywhere from 19% to 63%. Averaging the measured tests yields an overall speedup of 39%. The chart below shows the relative performance across tested workloads, normalized to the Threadripper Pro 3945WX. Read more »
Alex Herrera is a consultant focusing on high-performance graphics and workstations.
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